Quick Thoughts on Leadership and Management, Culture and Systems

Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner defined leadership as ‘The art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations’.

Peter Drucker defines management as ‘a multi-purpose organ that manages business and manages managers and manages workers and work’.

Culture – The values and behaviors that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organization (businessdictionary.com).

Systems – A set of detailed methods, procedures and routines created to carry out a specific activity, perform a duty, or solve a problem (businessdictionary.com).

Leadership Vs and Management

In theory, leadership and management are different. ‘Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.’ – Peter Drucker. This explanation, although simplistic in every sense, is a good starting point to understand the differences between leadership and management. However, in reality, leadership and management are two sides of the same coin. They are complimentary of each other and they go hand in hand. Trying to slice them apart will only result in more problems than it solves.

Leadership without management is like going to a battle without a plan. Management without leadership is like going to a battle not knowing who the enemy is.

Culture and Systems

“Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.” ― Peter Drucker

Leaders spend vast amount of energy on culture. Leaders use their energy to model the way, to model the culture they intend to build and values they expect from the team. They are clear about their personal values and are committed to living them. They walk the talk to build credibility. With credibility, leaders lead more than they manage because people are willing to struggle with them. Modeling the way is both unconscious and deliberate.

“The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The true dangerous thing is asking the wrong question.” ― Peter Drucker

Leaders make spontaneous decisions that are guided by their values. Leaders should be judge by how they make decision, rather than the decision they made. It is ok to choose wrongly as long as their conscious are clear. Of course, leaders shouldn’t make too many wrong choices. Leaders also need to deliberately create tangible opportunities for them to communicate, practice and reinforce what they preached. To remind the team of what they believe in and stand for.

To maintain the culture, leaders also focus their energy on the systems that drives it. Leaders use system to manage daily activities, instead of managing the activities directly. This gives them time for other important issues. This is not to say daily activities are not important. Collectively and over a period of time, when daily activities contradicts too often with the spirit of the culture, the system will collapse within itself and subsequently, the culture and finally, the team. However, time is finite. Focusing too much attention on day to day matters could lead to the leader losing sight of the bigger picture. There will be times when leaders are required to manage. When the time comes, leader must know what to manage, when to manage and how much to manage. This is why leadership and management are inseparable.

But culture is a living organism that requires constant attention and it is the leaders’ duty to ensure that the culture remains healthy. When the culture shows signs of failing, it needs to be remedy immediately to prevent the culture from sliding into paralysis, then death. Leaders need to re-examine themselves first, ‘ Am I still modeling the way?’, then revisit the systems. Sometimes, they need to be brave enough to admit that the system is no longer working and introduce wholesale changes, even if it means putting the team in very uncomfortable situations and forcing everyone to adapt to new behavioral norms.

Leaders decide on the culture they intend to create first, before picking and designing the systems around it. Like how we choose the theme of our living room before picking the furniture.

Systems shape behaviors.
Behaviors direct action.
Action drives results.

System is the infrastructure that enables the culture to flourish. Effective managers manage behaviors by working on the systems, instead of the addressing the behaviors directly. System is fair because it is transparent and it applies to everyone. But no system is perfect, like no person is perfect. Instead of trying to develop the perfect members, managers should use their energy to perfect the system, because a good system provides the foundation that frees members to focus on what is the most important – personal development.

Closing Tale

Tuckman explains that it is inevitable for team to ‘storm’ in its pursuit of high performance.

Members will pray, ‘I hope that I’m not on board when the storm comes.’

Managers recognize that the ‘storm’ is inevitable and try to ride it as best as they could when it happens. Raising a clenched fist at the troops, managers will go, ‘if it is a storm that want, it is a storm we will give!’

Leaders will say, ‘Let’s have a system in place in order to sail through the storm.’